Summer is approaching quickly, and families everywhere will be hitting the road for vacation. The last thing you need — especially if you have kids in the car, constantly asking, "Are we there yet?" — is a breakdown. Not only is being stranded by the side of the road frustrating and time-consuming, it can be dangerous, too. Trying to make repairs while keeping toddlers from darting into traffic is tough (even if you know what you're doing). With that in mind, here are some tips on how to make sure your car is road trip ready.
Light it up
Not only can malfunctioning lights earn you unwelcome attention from a passing police officer, they can be dangerous, too. Anything that reduces your ability to see or other drivers' ability to see you needs to be a top priority.
Just like your body, your car needs adequate fluids to run properly. The consequences of running your car on low fluids can range from overheating to locking up your engine. Here are the ones to check:
- Engine oil
- Transmission fluid
- Brake fluid
- Wiper fluid
- Power steering fluid
Wipe it away
Functioning wipers are a critical safety feature. If you've been seeing streaks or smears when you use your wipers, you need new ones. You should also do a visual inspection of the wipers themselves to look for cracks or places where the rubber has pulled away from the wiper arm.
Give yourself a brake
Your brakes are one of your car's most important safety features. You need to be able to count on your ability to stop quickly should the need arise. Here are some clues that your braking system is malfunctioning:
- Taking too long to stop: If your car is taking longer to stop than it used to, you may have a fluid leak in your braking system.
- "Spongy" pedal: If the brake pedal sinks all the way to the floor when you press it, you may have a leak.
- Pulling: Your car shouldn't pull to one side when you apply the brakes. If it does, you may either need a brake adjustment or a fluid replacement.
- Noise: If you hear a winding or growling noise when you apply the brakes, you've likely worn completely through your brake pads (especially if you ignored other signs of a brake problem). If that happens, have your brakes fixed immediately.
- Vibration: If you feel a vibration when you press the brakes, you may have warped rotors, another problem that requires immediate attention.
Get on a roll
Inspect your tires for obvious problems like bulges or nails. Next, check your tread. It's also important to make sure your tires are inflated to the right pressure. You can find the appropriate pressure either on the driver's side door or in your owner's manual.
Charge it up
A dead battery will leave you dead in the water and could also damage your alternator, leading to a high repair bill. Inspect your battery for leaks, bulges, and corrosion. Even if everything looks fine, if your battery is over three years old, or if your car has been slow to start lately, you might need a new battery. Not all battery problems are visible.
Knowing your car is in top-shape before heading out on a road trip is one of the most important things you can do to keep your family safe (and your trip enjoyable). There are plenty of resources that tell you how to do these checks yourself, but if you're the least bit unsure, it's safer to let a mechanic have a look. Then you can hit the road with peace of mind.